Sources of P2P Theory

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How do we arrive at hypotheses, interpretations and conclusions in the P2P Foundation, and in particular how did we arrive at our theoretical framing. We will focus on the practical and concrete research and experiences elsewhere, but here we focus on the sources of our theoretical insights, by going through the key books of the most significant authors who influenced us.

'Classic' Authors and Books

Relational Grammars

The P2P Foundation focuses on peer to peer dynamics in networks, and on the capacity of these dynamics to create commons. The main framing uses the relational grammar of Alan Page Fiske, which has been historised by Kojin Karatani.

Alan Page Fiske: Structures of Social Life

The foundational manuscript on P2P theory, uses the relational model used by anthropologist Alan Page Fiske, to conclude that the peer to peer relational dynamic is a form on 'non-reciprocal' or generalized exchange (you exchange with the totality of a resource and its community, not expecting a direct return from any individual). In Fiske's model, it is called Communal Shareholding and it is part of a fourfold structure that also includes Equality Matching, Authority Ranking, and Market Pricing (referring to the gift economy, redistribution according to rank, and exchange of commomodities through the pricing mechanism).

The implication is that Peer Production does not function as a Gift Economy (which corresponds to Fiske's category called Equality Matching), as is often mistakenly claimed.

Fpr the basic article by Fiske, see at

See also our wiki entry at: Relational Model Typology - Fiske

A related and complementary framework is the TIMN framework by David Ronfeldt (see Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks. [1]

Kojin Karatani: The Structure of World History

Whereas Fiske establishes a relational grammar that one can in find throughout historical periods and in every cultural sphere, Karatani historicizes their role as dominant form for particular civilizational formats, as they succeed each other through cultural and societal evolution. To be the dominant form of exchange does not mean being the only form of exchange, but it means that it is the main form, and that the other forms adapt to it.

Karatani_Kojin, is a Japanese political theorist and philosopher who is one of the co-founders of the defunct Japanese New Associationist Movement‎ and the author of a book on the Evolution of the Structure of World History Through Modes of Production and Modes of Exchange. The book establishes a history of modes of relationship and allocation of resources (instead of the Marxist framing of 'modes of production' for example).

The evolution of cooperation: Multilevel Selection Theory

The commons, 'commoning', depends to a large degree on our capacity for cooperation and even altruism. Multi-Level Selection Theory is an adaptation of Darwinian evolutionary theory which allows for the integration of the evolutionary effects of group formation, which has been developed by Richard Sloan Wilson and others, for example through the Prosocial Framework which attemts to create a convergence between evolutionary theory and the findings of Elinor Ostrom.

A good intro is the essay Evolutionary Theory of Resource Distribution by Blair Fix.

Interpretations of History and Human Societal Evolution

The Wave Pulse Theory of Human History

Wave Pulse theories are cyclical theories of human history, which sees societies evolving in a succession between more extractive/degradative phases, and more regenerative phases in which the commons operate as a key 'healing' mechanism. Peter Turchin's Secular Cycles is a good overview of how these cycles operate in agrarian societies, while Karl Polanyi focuses on the internal 'Kondratieff' type cycles within capitalism, in his masterpiece history of the emergence of industrial capitalism, at the end of the 17th cy., until 1945, i.e. The Great Transformation. Mark Whitaker's stellar book on ecological revolutions in China, Japan and Europe. P2P Theory is influenced by the findings of a two-year sabbatical investigation into phase transitions in human history, and draws on this body of historical interpretation. If you mix historical evolution as a trend towards increased complexity and scale, and the accumulation of technical-scientific knowledge, with the polarity switches indicated by wave-pulse theory, then you get to a vision of human evolution that is somewhat akin to a spiral-type development. Deep phase transitions are also important 'mutations' in human collective mentalities and forms of subjective consciousness. This is where the integrative work of Peter Pogany comes in, in his book, Rethinking the World, which integrates the work of the integral philosopher and cultural historian Jean Gebser.

For an introduction, see our article: The pulsation of the commons: The temporal context for the cosmo-local transition. By Michel Bauwens and Jose Ramos.

Karl Polanyi: The Great Transformation

Peter Pogany: Rethinking the World

Theories of the Commons

Elinor Ostrom: Governing the Commons

The P2P Foundation first phase of research was directed towards the peer production of 'immaterial' goods, such as free software, open design and shared knowledge, i.e. also sometimes called open source production, which operates around digital knowledge-based commons; the second phase was dedicated to urban commons, i.e. the mutualization of physical resources; and the third phase is dedicated to actual physical production, what we call Cosmo-Local Production. In this context, the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom, which focused on the multi-millenial history of natural resource commons (mainly but not exclusively), is of course a very important reference.

The Ecological turn: commons economics are bio-social-physical economics

Mark Whitaker: Ecological Revolution: The Political Origins of Environmental Degradation and the Environmental Origins of Axial Religions

Kate Raworth's synthesis on the Doughnut Economy

The participatory turn in human consciousness: Jorge Ferrer and John Heron

Jean Gebser: The Ever-Present Origin

John Heron: Sacred Science

Jorge Ferrer: Participatory Turn in Transpersonal Psychology

Our roots in the 'integral left'

  • Ken Wilber's Integral Theory
  • Jean Gebser's mutations of consciousness
  • progressive opposition to identitarian regressions

Contemporary Researchers

  • Adam Arvidsson
  • Enzio Manzini
  • Christian Iaione
  • Kevin Carson
  • Daniel Schmachtenberger and Jordan Hall